north platte river

Trips across the United States in the mid-1800’s were slow and often treacherous. The trips were taken on wagons pulled by horses or oxen. It took months to get across the nation, and many people did not make it. Illness, Indian attacks, heat, cold, or animal bites, all served to cause problems, but one of the worse dangers was water. Of course, water could be bad and filled with bacteria, but more importantly, water, in the form of rivers could make crossing extremely dangerous and sometimes deadly. Rivers that were swift or deep, could mean the end for wagons, animals, and for people.

One such danger, located on the Oregon Trail, where emigrants made their way to Oregon, California, and Utah, was the North Platte River near present day Casper, Wyoming. In those days, there were many people looking to make a living in something besides the gold industry, which wasn’t always successful for the majority of people, so they set up things like commercial ferries to transport wagon trains across the treacherous rivers, like the North Platte River. It was a safer way to cross the rivers, to be sure, but it was also expensive, and so many people tried to cross on their own. Mostly due to their inexperience, many people lost everything trying to cross, sometimes even their lives. Many emigrants, unwilling to pay, tried to fashion their own “ferries,” with varying success. Until bridges were built, nearly all travelers swam their livestock across, and many people and animals drowned in the swift, deep, shockingly cold water of the Platte.

From present-day central Nebraska to South Pass in west-central Wyoming, emigrants to California, Oregon and Utah all took more or less one route. Most of the wagon trains came up the south side of the Platte from Fort Kearney. They crossed the South Platte in western Nebraska where the river forks, and continued west, going up the south side of the north fork. This route meant that they would have to ford the Laramie River where it joined the North Platte at Fort Laramie. Then, finally they could cross the North Platte itself 150 miles later, where the river turned to go to the south near present Casper. Once they made the treacherous North Platte River crossing, the travelers could continue on to the west. There was simply no other way to get there from the East at that time in history.

Routes changed periodically, including crossings at Red Buttes, west of Casper during fur-trade times in the 1820s and 1830s. Crossing points varied more and more during the mid-1840s, including along 25 miles of river from the mouth of Deer Creek, at present-day Glenrock, Wyoming to Casper, Wyoming. Many people crafted small boats by emptying their wagons, removing the wagon box from the running gear, caulking the boxes water tight with tar, dismantling the running gear into pieces, and then ferrying everything across the water in the wagon boxes. Wow!! What a long drawn out, time consuming way to build a boat. Them they used poles or oars for guidance and often using ox or human power to tow the craft across the water with long ropes. This was a fairly reliable method, as I said very slow due to the unloading, dismantling, and reloading.

After his mother, Ramona Hadlock passed away, my brother-in-law, Chris Hadlock and my sister, Allyn Hadlock inherited his parents’ place on the North Platte River east of Casper. Chris always loved his childhood home, and he can’t wait to move back there. Chris’ parents bought their place in 1973, put a mobile home on the land, and the rest is history…family history, that is. For the most part, Chris and his younger brother, Doug were the children still at home. They loved country living. In the winter, the river and the creek on their property froze, and while they didn’t ride bicycles on the river, they did on the frozen creek. They also took turns pulling each other behind a bicycle on the frozen creek. Chris often talks about his life there and his thoughts are filled with the Christmas barbecues and summertime picnics in the back yard which sits right on the river. Those were happy days when both his parents were still alive, and the time he spent learning things from them.

Chris and Allyn have been busily tearing out anything useful in the old mobile home that his parents lived in, because they plan to sell their home in Casper to their son, Ryan and daughter-in-law, Chelsea and their family. With the proceeds of the sale, they will build their new home on the river, in the place they love to be. It was in this back yard that their rehearsal dinner was held the night before their wedding…37 years ago. And this is the land where so many other family gatherings have been held. It’s no wonder it holds such a big place in Chris’ heart. I’m sure that when he is there, he can almost visualize his parents all around him. I know that because it is the way I feel when I am in my parents home, which is now where my sister, Cheryl Masterson lives. Being able to go back to your childhood home is such a blessing, and I know that is how Chris feels too. The tearing down of the house was something they could not bear to watch in person, because it was Chris’ childhood home, and it felt so final to tear it down, but now that it is gone, they have been able to move forward with the plans for the new house, the construction of which is scheduled to begin soon.

These days Chris talks about the new memories they will make at his childhood home, because while the house is gone, and a new one will soon take it’s place, and his parents’ echo still remains all over the land. That will always be with him. He plans to continue many of the traditions of his parents, and of course they will start many new traditions with their own family, and with the families of their combined siblings too. The place is beautiful and quite big, so it can accommodate lots of people, and at the back fence, you can sit and view the lazy river going by. There are wild turkeys and lots of other birds, and of course, the fresh air and wide open spaces. I know that as Chris and Allyn live on the land, it will grow into a wonderful place where they will want to spend the rest of their lives…other than their place on the mountain, of course. Today is Chris’ birthday. Happy birthday Chris!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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